The party participated in the founding of the Second International in Paris on July 14, 1889. The party campaigned for more rights for workers including their right to vote. In the Brünner Programm of September 1899, the Socialists demanded that the Austro-Hungarian Empire be reformed into a democratic, federal state.
The Socialists were allowed to run in the City Council (Gemeinderat) elections of Vienna on May 30, 1890. However suffrage was only granted after a general strike in 1907. In the elections to the House of Deputies in the Reichsrat, the Socialists were able to win many votes. Out of a total of 516 seats, the party won 87 seats, becoming second strongest fraction in parliament after the Christian Social Party. Eventually by 1911 the Socialists became the strongest party in parliament.
The party initially supported the declaration of war against Serbia after the Assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg in 1914, but soon realized that the disastrous war was untenable. After the death of Emperor Franz Joseph, the first peace-meeting was held in December 1916. By January 1918, strikes were breaking out, calling for an end of the war and the terrible suffering of the people, especially the worker's families, had to endure.
By October, a provisional national assembly (“Provisorische Nationalversammlung”) was convened under the social-democrat Karl Renner, which tried to work out a provisional constitution (Provisorische Verfassung) under the leadership of a new state council led by the new state chancellor Renner. The social-democrats wanted a new form of government and on November 12, 1918, the republic was proclaimed by Renner.
The party clearly wanted to steer Austria towards political union with Germany, calling the new Austrian republic “Deutsch-Österreich” (German-Austria). But the Treaty of St. Germain clearly forbade any unification between Austria and Germany. The SDAPÖ nevertheless still advocated such a union during the existence of the First Republic, as they hoped for a strengthening of their position and the socialist cause within a Greater Germany.
In the first elections for the constitutional national assembly on February 16, 1919, women were allowed to vote for the first time. The SDAPÖ became the strongest party and formed a grand coalition with the Christian Social Party. In May, elections for the city council of Vienna followed: out of 165 mandates the social-democrats won 100 seats. Jakob Reumann became the first social-democratic mayor of Vienna. Vienna was going to continue to be the stronghold of the socialists in a largely conservative governed country. The socialist-led city government build the first Gemeindebau for the working-class, such as the Karl-Marx-Hof, Sandleiten and at the Gürtel causeway, and instituted social, healthcare and educational reforms. These measures indeed ameliorated the living conditions for workers and raised their standard of living, coining the term “Rotes Wien” (“Red Vienna”) of the 1920’s. The measures also deepened the ties of the workers towards the party, creating a large pool of loyalists on which the party could always depend on.
Within the grand coalition, the parties were able to agree on a package of reforms such as the 8-hour-day (8-Stunden-Tag), the worker’s council law (Betriebsrätegesetz) and negotiations for a new republican constitution, which came into force on November 10, 1920. After the parliamentary elections in October 1920, the SDAPÖ left the grand coalition after the CS won the majority of votes. The social-democrats would remain in opposition during the First Republic.
But the SDAPÖ continued to be internally divided in roughly two wings: on the one side were the moderates under the leadership of former chancellor Karl Renner, who advocated a parliamentary, liberal democracy and the welfare state; on the other side were the more radical Austromarxists under the leadership of Otto Bauer. Especially the latter part did not wish any further cooperation with the CS, which led to an increase in political instability over time as political views became grew more extreme and fractious.
Feeling increasingly under threat, most political parties formed their own military wing. In May 1924, the SDAPÖ founded its own paramilitary wing, the Republikanischer Schutzbund (roughly translatable as “Republican Protection Militia”). The communist party KPÖ formed their Red Brigades, the conservative CS also followed suit, founding their own “Heimwehr” (“Homeland Protection Force” or "Homeguard"). The mere existence of armed political militias and vigilante groups, existing next to the regular police and army forces, did not bode well for the further stability of the young republic. The founding of these militias were in response to raised political tension, as well as aggravating it, increasing the chances of an open, violent clash, as political parties within parliament continued their fighting. On November 3, 1926, the so-called “Linzer Programm” was agreed upon on the SDAPÖ party convention, which was heavily influenced by Otto Bauer’s wing and reinforced the differences between the opposition Christian-socialists (CS) and the social-democrats.
On January 30, 1927, members of the conservative "Heimwehr" party shot at members of "Republikanischer Schutzbund" party in Schattendorf (Staat Burgenland), resulting in two deaths. In the “Schattendorfer Urteil” trial that followed, the jury found the accused not guilty, in July of that year. Members of the Republikanischer Schutzbund, the SDAPÖ and workers were outraged by this verdict and formed demonstrations on July 15 to protest. The mob vented their frustration, eventually moved towards the Palace of Justice (Justizpalast), setting it on fire. Clashes with the police left 85 workers and four policemen dead, up to 600 people were injured. The burning of the Justizpalast and the bloodshed surrounding it symbolised a break within the republic, marking the coming end of democracy.
The political atmosphere became increasingly poisoned and untenable. The conservatives shored their position against the socialists, on May 18, 1930, the Heimwehr of the CS declared their Korneuburger Eid (Oath of Korneuburg), in which they openly called for the overthrow of the parliamentary democracy (“Wir verwerfen den westlichen demokratischen Parlamentarismus und den Parteienstaat!”)
The crushing of the social-democratic opposition by the conservatives however meant a further weakening of Austria, as infighting within the Heimwehr and the conservatives continued. Chancellor Dollfuß himself was assassinated 10 weeks after the end of the civil war by National socialists. Adolf Hitler was increasingly influencing things in Austria. Nazi Germany was increasing the pressure by scheming and manipulating political events, as well as planning and carrying out terrorist attacks on infrastructure within Austria. The successor of Dollfuß, the conservative chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg tried a new round of talks with the outlawed social-democrats and even the monarchists, in order to stabilise the situation again. The social-democrats favoured democracy, but were lukewarm to the concept of an independent Austria. The majority of conservatives wanted to keep an independent Austria, however in the form of an Austro-fascist regime. The extreme fighting and enmity between the two parties resulted in both the abolition of democracy and the end of Austria as an independent entity. On March 12, 1938, the weakened Austrian government under Chancellor Schuschnigg was forced to step down by Hitler under the threat of war, and Austria was annexed to Nazi Germany.
The Anschluss was initially enthusiastically greeted by many social democrats, such as the ex-chancellor Karl Renner who pledged to vote “yes” in a referendum on the Anschluss (“Ich stimme mit ‘Ja’”) and finally realise the old dream of a union with Germany. Although democracy was not in sight, at least Hitler’s policies promised more work and equality for many workers and labourers, as well as further socialist reforms and political stability. The socialist enthusiasm that greeted Hitler however soon gave way to the sobering reality of war and the Nazi occupation.
The Soviet Union had the most influence as an occupying allied power in the immediate post-war years. Stalin was interested in integrating the newly liberated Austria into the Soviet bloc. The Austrian Communists were the only who could claim to have consistently fought against the Nazi regime, and they largely lay under the protection and guidance from Moscow. Any new Austrian government would therefore have to integrate them as well. Karl Renner tried to position himself as the man of the hour who could act as a bridge between the conservatives and the communists. The Soviets and the other allied powers had large reservations about Renner, whom they viewed as an opportunist. Renner tried to convince a sceptical Stalin in a letter, where he expressed his mea culpa for his previous support of the Anschluss, at the same presenting himself as the only credible socialist politician left able to reach an agreement with the Communists.
If Renner convinced Stalin, or if it was out of pure necessity, is not entirely clear, but the Soviets tentatively decided to support Renner, maybe in order to win more influence over the government in time. With Soviet support Karl Renner and Leopold Kunschak proclaimed a provisional Austrian state government on April 27, 1945 in the parliament building in Vienna. The proclamation aimed to re-establish an independent Austria. Historic photographs show Renner reading out the proclamation in the old imperial Chamber of the House of Representatives (Abgeordnetenhaus), with Soviet officers sitting in the back benches. This alarmed the western allies, who feared a plot by the Soviets to establish a people’s republic, a tactic that worked in Hungary and East Germany, where the socialists there were forcibly integrated with the communist party. However for the moment, the Austrian socialists were allowed to re-established their party and operate relatively freely. The new party also established their own newspaper, the “Arbeiter-Zeitung” on August 4 of the same year.
Ex-chancellor Karl Renner was elected as the new Federal President of Austria by the Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung) on October 20, 1945. He would hold this office until his death on December 31, 1950. The party held its first congress since 1933 in December 1945. The SPÖ decided to make its peace with the conservatives, since their fighting was partly responsible for the failure of the First Republic. The party entered an all encompassing grand coalition with the ÖVP, the successor party of the old CS. This form of a grand coalition would last for the next 21 years until 1966.
After the death of Karl Renner in 1950, Theodor Körner was elected as Federal President on May 26, 1951. In Frankfurt in Germany, the Socialist International was founded, of which the SPÖ was one of the charter members.
In May 1957 Bruno Pittermann became party chairman. Former chairman Adolf Schärf was elected as Federal President in April 1957 and re-elected for a second term in 1963. He was succeeded in May 1965 by Franz Jonas, who also hailed from the socialist party.
The grand coalition governments of SPÖ and ÖVP were marked by a desire to stabilise the political and social situation and concentrate on economic growth and social equality. One of the first acts of the grand coalition was able to agree on a new law about worker’s vacation regulations on July 25, 1946. The party followed a rather moderate line and tried to cooperate with its coalition partner. Many state enterprises were nationalised and the situation of the worker ameliorated with work incentives and social benefits. The neutrality that was required by Austria meant that the country had little to worry about military spending and obligations to any military block. Instead it tried to act as a mediator between two sides in any international conflict, concentrating on tasks within the United Nations framework. Nevertheless on January 1 1960, foreign minister Bruno Kreisky was able to sign the accession treaty of Austria into the EFTA.
The success of the economy and the international high profile Austria was enjoying due to its neutrality ushered in another victory for Kreisky and the SPÖ in the election of May 1979, where the party won 51% of all votes. Nevertheless the party failed to win in the following elections in April 1983, Kreisky stepped down and Fred Sinowatz became the new chancellor and formed a coalition government with the liberal FPÖ. Sinowatz later took over as party chairman from Kreisky in October of the same year.
Sinowatz tried to rely on the liberal wing of the FPÖ, however political infighting and the rise of the nationalist Jörg Haider made a further coalition with its junior partner for the SPÖ impossible. Franz Vranitzky, who replaced Sinowatz in June 1986, ended the so-called “small coalition” and called for fresh elections. In the November elections of 1986, the SPÖ became strongest party again and entered into a grand coalition with the ÖVP. Vranitzky himself was elected as party chairman in May 1988.
The government grand coalition with the conservative ÖVP as the junior partner would last from 1988 until 2000.
In July 1990, Bruno Kreisky, who was the grand doyen of the party, died. The end of the Cold War and the fall of the Iron Curtain confronted Austria and the SPÖ with changing realities. In October of the same year, the party won and remained strongest party in parliament. In June 1995, the party congress decided to change its name from “Socialist Party of Austria” (Sozialistische Partei Österreichs) into “Social Democratic Party of Austria” (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs), thus shifting the emphasis from socialism to a reaffirmation to its commitment to democracy.
On issues of gender equality, the party congress decided in June 1993 to introduce a quota for women. The new regulation required that at least 40% of SPÖ candidates are female.
Chancellor Vranitzky tried to repair the damage to Austria’s international image caused by the presidential election of the controversial Kurt Waldheim. He was the first chancellor who, in a speech in front of parliament, clearly spoke of the guilt Austrians carried during the Second World War, something that was until then a topic that was taboo at home. He undertook a number of steps towards reconciliation with victims, his state visit to Israel in 1983 was highly regarded. The SPÖ also endorsed an entry of the country into the European Union during negotiations with Brussels. In the national referendum of June 12, 1994, over 66% percent of all voters voted “yes”, Austria duly became a member on January 1, 1995.
Although the SPÖ supported Austria’s entry to the EU, the party fared badly in the elections of October 1994, but remained the strongest party in parliament. It was able to retain that position in the December elections of 1995 where it gained votes back. In 1997, Chancellor Vranitzky stepped back from office after more than 10 years in office to make way for the new generation, being replaced by his former finance minister Viktor Klima, who was sworn in in January. In April 1997 he also took over the position as party chairman.
The party congress decided on a reformed party programme in October 1998. The basic values of social democracy, freedom, equality, justice and solidarity were reaffirmed. But the party also committed itself to modernisation and a willingness to take risks and welcome change. A new, more open party statute was passed. In order to reflect the new reforms, a new party logo was also introduced.
As voters’ frustration with the old system grew, the FPÖ under the young and dynamic party chairman Jörg Haider was able to ride the wave of discontent and win votes in every parliamentary election. The FPÖ had its core support with the right wing, but was increasingly able to attract voters from the conservative ÖVP and even made inroads with traditional SPÖ voters who grew fed up with the grand coalitions and the old Proporz system.
The parliamentary elections of 1999 were a great shock to the country’s system. Although the SPÖ lost votes, it was still able to retain its position as the strongest party, but the FPÖ became the second strongest party by a very small edge before the ÖVP. Although federal president Thomas Klestil gave the social democrats the order to form a new government, no coalition partner could be found. The ÖVP under their leader Wolfgang Schüssel, who was vice-chancellor and foreign minister, entered into negotiations with the FPÖ instead. In February 2000, the new centre-right government between the ÖVP and the FPÖ was formed with Schüssel as the new chancellor. This prompted a huge outcry at home as well as abroad, leading even to sanctions by the EU and Israel pulling out its ambassador in protest to the right-wing FPÖ. For the first time in 30 years, the SPÖ had to sit in opposition.
The end of the grand coalition left many within the party embittered with the ÖVP and what was perceived as a sell-out. Alfred Gusenbauer became new party chairman and started restructuring the party politically, organisationally and financially. In the snap elections of November 2002 the party’s lost its position as strongest party to the conservative ÖVP, which was able to win a resounding victory at the expense of the social democrats and the FPÖ. The SPÖ got 36.5% of all votes, ending up with 69 seats in the National Council. It had 23 seats in the Federal Council. Nevertheless in a number of state elections, the SPÖ was able to win votes back and even made inroads in traditionally conservatively-ruled states. Outside its traditional strongholds of Vienna and Burgenland, the party surprisingly won state elections in Styria and Salzburg, forming the new state governments there.
The SPÖ candidate Heinz Fischer won the presidential elections in April 2004 against his conservative contender Benita Ferrero-Waldner. Thus a conservative-led government stood opposite a social democratic president. President Fischer repeatedly made statements that stood in contrast to the official stance of the government, such as the speaking out for the equality of homosexuals as well as calling for better treatment of immigrants.
The party is a member of the Party of European Socialists in the European Parliament. In June 2004 the SPÖ fared well in the elections to the European Parliament, winning 33.5% of the Austrian votes cast, thus receiving nine seats (out of a total of 18 Austrian seats) and becoming strongest Austrian party. This was seen as a welcome sign for upcoming national elections in 2006. Due to the banking scandal of the BAWAG, which was close to the unions, confidence has been greatly shaken how the party will in future separate financial dealings from politics. In the 2006 National Elections the SPÖ to the surprise of many became Austria's largest party with 68 seats (67 if you count the chairman of the Liberal Forum ran on the SPÖ list) to the ÖVP's 66. In the long protracted coalition negotiations that followed a grand coalition was formed with Gusenbauer as Chancellor in a Grand Coalition with the ÖVP which was finally sworn in January 2007, 3 months after the elections.
Reflecting the change in attitude towards the past, Federal President Fischer in an interview with the liberal newspaper Der Standard strongly criticised Austria’s view on its historical role during Nazi rule. He called the traditional view that Austria was the first victim of Nazi aggression as false. The Moscow Declaration of 1943 by émigrés, which called for the independence of Austria from Nazi Germany, was a problem since it stated that the war was neither started nor wanted by any Austrian (“Und das ist nicht richtig.”) Also the fact that Austrian Jewish victims were not mentioned in the declaration (“.. kein Wort für die jüdischen Opfer”) as well as that it took decades for them to receive any kind of compensation and justice from the government was very regrettable and inexcusable. His statements were direct criticism of the centre-right wing government of the coalition ÖVP/FPÖ, which usually dragged its feet concerning compensation to victims, and the admission of the (co-)guilt Austrians carried for crimes committed by them during the Second World War. (Interview given on April 10, 2006, full text available online at http://derstandard.at/)
The chart below shows a timeline of the social democratic chairpersons and the Chancellors of Austria. The left bar shows all the chairpersons (Bundesparteivorsitzende, abbreviated as "CP") of the SPÖ, and the right bar shows the corresponding make-up of the Austrian government at that time. The red (SPÖ) and black (ÖVP) colours correspond to which party led the federal government (Bundesregierung, abbreviated as "Govern."). The last names of the respective chancellors are shown, the Roman numeral stands for the cabinets.
DateFormat = yyyy
Period = from:1945 till:2008
TimeAxis = orientation:vertical
ScaleMajor = unit:year increment:4 start:1945
Define $dx = 25 # shift text to right side of bar
Define $dy = -4 # adjust height PlotData=
id:SPÖ value:red legend:SPÖ
id:ÖVP value:gray(0.25) legend:ÖVP
bar:CP color:red width:25 mark:(line,white) align:left fontsize:S
from:1945 till:1957 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Adolf Schärf
from:1957 till:1967 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Bruno Pittermann
from:1967 till:1983 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Bruno Kreisky
from:1983 till:1988 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Fred Sinowatz
from:1988 till:1997 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Franz Vranitzky
from:1997 till:2000 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Viktor Klima
from:2000 till:2008 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Alfred Gusenbauer
from:2008 till:end shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Werner Faymann
bar:Govern. color:red width:25 mark:(line,white) align:left fontsize:7
from:1945 till:1946 shift:($dx,-2) color:SPÖ text:Renner
from:1946 till:1949 shift:($dx,$dy) color:ÖVP text:Figl I
from:1949 till:1952 shift:($dx,$dy) color:ÖVP text:Figl II
from:1952 till:1953 shift:($dx,$dy) color:ÖVP text:Figl III
from:1953 till:1956 shift:($dx,$dy) color:ÖVP text:Raab I
from:1956 till:1959 shift:($dx,$dy) color:ÖVP text:Raab II
from:1959 till:1960 shift:($dx,$dy) color:ÖVP text:Raab III
from:1960 till:1961 shift:($dx,-2) color:ÖVP text:Raab IV
from:1961 till:1963 shift:($dx,$dy) color:ÖVP text:Gorbach I
from:1963 till:1964 shift:($dx,$dy) color:ÖVP text:Gorbach II
from:1964 till:1966 shift:($dx,$dy) color:ÖVP text:Klaus I
from:1966 till:1970 shift:($dx,$dy) color:ÖVP text:Klaus II
from:1970 till:1971 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Kreisky I
from:1971 till:1975 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Kreisky II
from:1975 till:1979 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Kreisky III
from:1979 till:1983 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Kreisky IV
from:1983 till:1986 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Sinowatz
from:1986 till:1987 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Vranitzky I
from:1987 till:1990 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Vranitzky II
from:1990 till:1994 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Vranitzky III
from:1994 till:1996 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Vranitzky IV
from:1996 till:1997 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Vranitzky V
from:1997 till:2000 shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Klima
from:2000 till:2003 shift:($dx,$dy) color:ÖVP text:Schüssel I
from:2003 till:2007 shift:($dx,$dy) color:ÖVP text:Schüssel II
from:2007 till:end shift:($dx,$dy) color:SPÖ text:Gusenbauer
DateFormat = yyyy Period = from:1945 till:2008 TimeAxis = orientation:vertical ScaleMajor = unit:year increment:4 start:1945
Define $dx = 25 # shift text to right side of bar Define $dy = -4 # adjust height
During the government of Kreisky, Johanna Dohnal became the first minister for women’s affairs